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Miami’s Hip Larry Land Quarter Thrives on Art Deco Madness

The Winter Haven hotel on South Beach in Miami stands as a prime example of the Art Deco movement that has transformed Miami into what the Miami Design Preservation League calls the world's hippest art tourist destination. Source: Miami Design Preservation League via Bloomberg
The Winter Haven hotel on South Beach in Miami stands as a prime example of the Art Deco movement that has transformed Miami into what the Miami Design Preservation League calls the world's hippest art tourist destination. Source: Miami Design Preservation League via Bloomberg

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The monarch of Larry Land has survived malls, condos and the rise and fall of Florida’s plastic pink-flamingo population.

When others lost their heads to the whims of greater Miami’s $230 billion real-estate industry, 79-year-old Larry Mizrach, president of Mizrach Realty Associates, so resolutely kept his focus on Art Deco and other historic design properties that locals decided to rechristen the city’s blossoming Wynwood quarter in his name.

Mizrach arrived in Wynwood in 1944, a 12-year-old New Yorker whose family drove south to open a clothing factory under the Miami sun. The $1,972 Art Deco Series 62 Cadillac Club Coupe was the tropical car of choice then, and Al Capone was living in a 6,103-square-foot Mediterranean Revival mansion on Palm Island that cost the mob boss $40,000.

Life magazine dubbed neighboring Miami Beach “Babylon U.S.A.,” with snapshots of showgirls hopping the Miami Biltmore Special train down from Broadway for “chance meetings with thick-walleted gentlemen,” who in 1947 poured $220 million into the local economy.

“Nabisco, Coca-Cola, RC Cola, all of the big postwar companies played on the Beach and rushed across the rail tracks to Wynwood to build factories and warehouses in the architectural style of the day,” Mizrach recalls on a stroll through the former Puerto Rican slum that decades of Miami boom times had left alienated and anonymous.

Southern SoHo

“Now we have more than 100 art galleries,” Mizrach says of the 1-square-mile manufacturing and residential district he has helped broker into the SoHo of the south, a 15,000-person supervillage of artist lofts, stylish eateries, rare wood bungalows and home to some of the world’s most celebrated names in the art market.

Mizrach takes a breath at the Downtown Towing Co. and maps his realm with a finger.

“Look, there’s the Rubell Family gallery and museum,” he says in a satisfied voice. “Bernice Steinbaum and Zadok are around the corner. It’s great. Makes me feel 40 years younger.”

And in the path of what Bank of Coral Gables Chairman William Kerdyk Jr. calls a $21.5 billion hurricane of direct foreign investment that in 2008 hit Miami with an eye to buy into Mizrach’s passion: ephemeral real estate, provenanced properties that have outlived their original purpose.

Foreign Buyers

Kerdyk, president and chief executive officer of Kerdyk Real Estate Inc. which opened in Coral Gables in 1926, waves a handful of papers in a variety of languages. “I have commercial and residential clients from Switzerland, France, China, Brazil, Britain, Japan and Russia investing in Miami and seeking properties with artistic motifs -- and paying a 15 percent premium,” he says. “Twenty years ago, 70 percent of our clients were Americans. That’s now 45 percent and dropping.”

Art Deco economics made it happen. The 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris introduced the world to a new design form that used luxury materials to feature angular, voluptuous and elaborate motifs of fountains, flora and naked women.

Kerdyk says Miami immediately embraced the art form and reckons the 86-year-old love affair has helped make the city second only to New York as a U.S. center for international banking as well as the cultural hub of Latin America and a magnet for foreign tourism.

As Kerdyk tells it, 40 percent of all investment in Miami now comes from abroad, with Brazilians buying 300 condominiums a month at distressed prices. “Everybody is interested in a trophy architectural property,” he says of the art rush that has grown to include Mission Modern, Miami Modern and Streamline Modern properties. “South Beach, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Larry Land. The architecture is sexy.”

Historic Hotel

Kerdyk points to a faded photograph on his office wall. “That’s the Biltmore Hotel, an architectural gem,” he says. “It took 11 months and $10 million to build in 1925. Investors want that look, but today you can’t even pull a building permit in 11 months. Coral Gables has 16,000 residential units and only 3,500 come with architectural provenance.”

Mizrach prefers to focus on square footage. “I’m still renting historic at $15, selling at $120,” he says at lightning speed. “It’s $25 to $45 to rent in the Gables and $250 to $350 to buy. You want South Beach: $60 to rent; if you’re buying, get out your second checkbook.”

Amy Tancig, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, says that Larry Land is Miami’s final architectural frontier for investors and a marquee draw for the 10,000 tourists who each month since October 2010 have signed up for the league’s walking tour of local design destinations.

Art Deco Shades

“Some 80 percent of our customers are foreigners,” says Tancig, pouring coffee in her air-conditioned office on the second floor of the Ocean Auditorium, a 1950s dance hall converted into Miami’s bustling Art Deco headquarters. Downstairs in the gift shop, Art Deco sunglasses sell for $14, reduced from $48. The place is packed. Business is brisk and overwhelmingly conducted in Parisian French, Venezuelan Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

“It’s cheaper to buy in Miami,” says Brazilian interior designer Paulo Bacchi, co-owner of the Sao Paulo-based luxury-furniture chain Artefacto. Bacchi has 25 outlets in Brazil and is pouring tumblers of sugar-cane “cachaca” rum in his U.S. flagship store in Coral Gables. “Brazilians also like the architecture, so we’re coming in herds.”

A summer survey by shows nine daily direct flights between Miami and Sao Paulo to accommodate the 275,000 Miamians who are Brazilian. The city has 14 Portuguese-language publications and Dr. Constantino Mendieta daily performs four “Brazilian Butt Lifts,” a cosmetic procedure which, boosters say, transforms an otherwise horizontal derriere into a museum-quality exemplar of living Art Deco.

Cultural Draw

Back at the dance hall, Tancig says design is Miami’s main attraction. “The beach is popular,” she says of the 8.5-mile stretch of sand outside her window. “Yet our research continues to show that the buildings and the cultural events we stage in Larry Land and around South Beach’s 700 historic buildings are a marquee attraction.”

Miami’s 1976 Art Deco revival lit the surge, Tancig says.

“The artists were the first to move in,” she says of the program that in 1992 lured Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace to restore and move into Casa Casuarina, the Mediterranean Revival mansion built in 1930 by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman. Other celebrities followed.

“Then prices forced the artists to pull out and make their way to Larry Land,” Tancig says. “It’s always the artists who first see history as a platform for economic growth.”

Art Education

Mizrach’s partner Danny Zelonker calls the process the physiognomy of real estate, the notion that culture is etched into the landscape and that modern real-estate agents need to be as educated in art and heritage preservation as they are in zoning codes and brokerage fees. The University of Miami School of Architecture offers a post-graduate curriculum that leads to a Master’s Degree in Real Estate Development and Urbanism.

“We have 30 fantastic architectural properties for lease, three of them classic Art Deco,” says the 61-year-old French-Cuban-American Zelonker outside Dolly’s Cafe in Larry Land. “The more I learn about their provenances, the more I want our properties preserved for the future.”


To contact the writer on the story: A. Craig Copetas at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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